Seems like a life time ago when a reviewer told me he felt lost in one of my mystery stories, that it took him too long to gain traction again as the story played out. He eased the critique with a compliment and a recommendation to his readers. That’s always nice, but I know a spoonfull of sugar helps the medicine go down.
I gave a great deal of thought to the issue and of course, avowed not to lose my spontaneity or creativeness by over-organizing … read that as sweating over an outline; planning and maintaining my theme, characters, plot, and scenes; devolving the evolving the storyline; and all those other things creative writing class once insisted upon eons ago. After all, aren’t the steps in a novel’s formation really only a convenient way for an English teacher to organize his grade book?
Actually, no. And that critic? He was right. Just for the heck of it, I went back and outlined one of my early books. I made some basic errors, and could’ve done a better job. While I worked on my next two books, (I write two at a time to keep the machine moving forward), I played with a self-designed system. Somewhere down the road, I created Camelot Games and *Rite using my lessons learned. Many months ago on this blog site, I promised to reveal how my new book *Rite used those steps. Sans the drumroll, here are my Big Four:
- Scenes & Sequencing events (or, “Snowflakes” with a special thanks to Randy Ingermanson for the term and the visualized concept)
- Timeline (Sequencing of unfolding events)
- Character description (lots of detail)
- The Fact sheet (concepts, themes, plotlines, and individual little hints that insure a reader, any reader can figure out the who-done-it just before the end of the story.)
You may note a missing essential component as set forth by that English Teacher. I’ve rolled those couple of items into the four biggies above. This works for me. You’ll make your own.
These four blocks of organization work well on Windows 10, yet another nice tool. I recall my old writing rooms (airport terminals, motel rooms, back seats of moving cars, cargo compartments of C-130s) with wonder. While writing in such odd places, I’d try to recall the corner of my garage that held the piece of paper stapled on my multiple cork boards. What key piece of information did I need to reveal in the scene I was writing? I usually got it right, but when I didn’t, a useless dark corner appeared. Hence, far more time spent in re-write.
Now, each of my Big Four waits inside my flash-drive ready for quick retrieval. Instead of limiting myself to eight by eleven sheets of loose-leaf notepaper as I’ve mentioned in the past, I use searchable documents available for a quick pop-up. Once I’ve checked my notes (and memory) I hide the doc, and continue to write. I still use the notebook as my concept first organizer, sort of the grandfather of the story. I like the feel of paper and pen, and to watch thoughts grow and mature. I’ve added a touch of technology and harden the steps into a file that now becomes my reference tool. The missteps that once followed the occasional bursts of inspiration are lessened. Hey, even Faulkner used a typewriter, the technology of his time.
I’ll end this here and give you an example of the new book’s struggles. One cautionary note: I’ve reduced the detail below because there’s simply too much for my little blog.
Snowflakes – The Big Pieces
|INCIDENT LOCATION ITEM||STORY 1 OR 2||WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE STORY AND HOW DOES THIS MOVES STORY ALONG||SCENE AND CHARACTERS; CORRECTIONS IF NEEDED||DATE, PAGE NUMBER|
|Light left burning at Winkler residence
|1||Observation post set up by killer/plotter getting to know Pfeiffer’s routine.
Need to lay foundation for ineffective killer, not up to sibling standards
Air-conditioning working even when not needed
Winkler – murdered
Det. Fernandez – case agent
Mysterious assailant – escapes
The Little Pieces
|INCIDENT LOCATION ITEM||STORY 1 OR 2||WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE STORY AND HOW THIS MOVES STORY ALONG||SCENE AND CHARACTERS; CORRECTIONS IF NEEDED||DATE, PAGE NUMBER|
Light left burning at Winkler residence
|2||Observation post set up by killer/plotter getting to know Pfeiffer’s routine.
Check bicycles in back yard. Too many of them. He falls over them and leads Pfeiffer to ask why – goes to neighbor teens
Coord. Mention thug on p67
Cops should talk to kids in neighborhood
Leads to hacker kid to break into financial records of university
Timeline (Multiple of all significant events)
|Laura graduates||Undergraduate affair with Causey||Goes to Berkeley||Returns
Begins affair again
|Dies||Bennet Causey awarded Nobel Prize||Hits on diamond deal with Tom Williams||Too much cash||Donation to UNA||Tom Williams killed in traffic accident|
Characters Sense Description
|Protagonist||Former Army Ranger, divorced by Marla,
Old girlfriend Gloria
Married to Lisa Calendar, father of baby girl Grace
Medic specialty in Army – forced to retire as M/sgt
Broken back in helo accident days before Gulf War One began. Saved by Iranian nomadic
Formerly overweight now lifestyle change of diet and exercise regimen
Some self-doubting and accepts help
Partners with Lisa Calendar – true partnership of respect
School teacher parents killed in auto wreck, 1 week after retirement
Dropout Univ. of Kansas, red shirt football
PI as a way to back out of life
Guts not stupidity – credo
Theme – Partnership, like love comes only with often played mutual respect
Plot – Nobel Prize laureate spends a lifetime and a fortune overcoming the guilt of sin, encountering new issues with commercial success,
Scene – Chandler, AZ (home); Prescott, AZ (fictitious University Northern Arizona); art studio, national forest
POV – Pfeiffer & Murderer
Non-Chronological List of Facts
FACTS Pertinent Information Page No.
|Ghost Alumni financing the new UNA projects||Lisa discovers||39|
|Diamond connection to sneak money undetected back into the country||Lisa Uncovers||57|
|Dying of Cancer is an irony to the man who discovered the chemical to assure stem cell advancement in the treatment of untreatable cancers||Pfeiffer and Lisa put concept together||12|
*Rite – Working title for Phil Pfeiffer’s newest adventure mystery